We raved at this 20-year old freak when he switched his grip and reverse scooped Sam Curran over third man for six. The left-arm seamer had bowled a perfectly acceptable, screaming-to-be-treated-with-respect delivery on the stumps and Tom Banton casually swirls the bat in his hand and lifts the ball ever so casually over third man.
The Somerset Twitter handle vibrated with constant musings on the irresistible Banton magic. Retweets and comments flooded as Banton, not for the first time, became the talk of the town. All of them poured over Banton’s magical reverse swat including the author whose first question in an interview with the Somerset opener was about his reverse hits. Pat came the reply: “Ah, I am not too bothered about it, buddy. I am only worried about my trigger movements.”
You did not just do this Tom Banton!!! 😱😱😱😱
— Somerset Cricket 🏏 (@SomersetCCC) August 2, 2019
Even as the author is slightly taken aback (as the next series of questions were about his reverse hits), Banton continues, “I played hockey till the age of 17. And I think that’s where I got all my reverse hits from. I have had to quit hockey obviously with a lot of cricket these days. I used to reverse the sticks on the run in hockey too. That’s probably where I got my reverse sweep from in cricket. I don’t really practice it in the nets. I focus on my rhythm and trigger movements in the nets, try and play as straight as possible.”
Tall and elegant, Banton’s USP is his reverse swats, sweeps, scoops….call it what you will; he has played it all. But the last thing on the youngster’s mind in the nets and when the bowler runs in is flaunting his pyrotechnics. Instead, he is adamant about playing the ball straight in the nets and getting his rhythm right by adjusting his trigger movement and balance.
It might come as no surprise that AB de Villiers and Jos Buttler are two players that massively influence him. But contrary to what you might think, he isn’t falling head over heels for de Villiers’ 360 degree game like us. Instead, he says, “I just see the way they [de Villiers and Buttler] set themselves up at the crease. I am very particular about the trigger. I see de Villiers’ trigger movement more than the balance he has. . De Villiers has, of course, done it for a very long period of time.”
If that’s surprising, wait for this pearl from the one man responsible for a lot of followers for the Somerset Twitter handle.
“I have also looked at the South African opener Aiden Markram very closely in recent times. The way he goes about it. I played against him recently in England and he is also quite tall like me and has a very good trigger where he is crouched as the bowler runs in. I tried that and loved the adjustment. It has gone right for me so far.”
We have heard about Banton focusing closely on Alex Hales (who is also tall) and the way he plays but here we are talking about a batsman whose International career appears to be at cross roads. Yet, a young 20 year old prodigy is taking tips by watching Markram bat. Perhaps that Virat Kohli admiration tweet about Markram wasn’t misplaced after all.
— Somerset Cricket 🏏 (@SomersetCCC) July 18, 2019
While in that casual reverse scoop off Curran, we all praised the reverse hit and the awareness, Banton was particularly impressed by his own position at the crease and the slightly crouched position, a possible steal from Markram, which helped him execute the shot to perfection; quite formidable from a 20-year old who says he is still unsure about his ability.
As England embark on a New Zealand series with five T20Is, Banton’s hype is higher than ever. The short boundaries in New Zealand combined with the massive hits Banton is capable of makes this a perfect marriage. But is he unsure of his game? Not really as long as he finds himself hitting the ball every now and then.
He rocked the T20 Blast, finishing as second-highest run-getter. In the Royal London One Day Cup knockouts, Banton slammed scores of 112 (103) in the quarter-final, 59 (55) in the semi-finals and 69 (67) in the finals. Yet, in the 13-day gap between the semi-finals and finals, Banton had to take a confidence booster.
He turned up for Taunton St Andrew’s and made 19 and 12 ball half-centuries. Impressive? Yes. But it’s not something a lot of other players might do.
“It is probably more of a confidence-booster. You are still young and still unsure about whether you belong and it is good to remind yourself that you are capable of doing this by just hitting the ball well. So I just wanted to get out there, not think about anything too much and strike the ball.”
One might even call it an adrenaline boost that leaves you in a state of high to do incredible things fearlessly when the real stage comes calling. Banton carried that adrenaline into the finals and made a 67-ball 69 in the finals of the One Day Cup at Lord’s in a fairly easy run-chase that he made easier.
Fearlessness is what makes Banton as exciting as he is. It is also what makes the New Zealand tour a big one for Banton. As Ben Jones of CricViz showed recently in an article, the quality of the T20 Blast is questionable. Per CricViz, it comes behind IPL, BPL, PSL, CPL, BBL and APL in terms of quality. That’s six out of the nine major T20 Leagues in the world.
Add in the fact that Banton has a habit of going big or perishing early – a possible side-effect of his adrenaline-based game – and you wonder if he might be another of those talents who get timid when the big stage comes calling.
Banton, though, thinks his fearlessness is a strength. “Just the fact that I am not scared of getting out [when asked what his strength is]. I go out with a mindset where I am okay with not getting any runs as long as I do my things right. I don’t overthink and it helps.”
“I am a mix of timing and power. There are lot of players in the side who are much stronger than me, so timing is probably ahead of power. It also helps that I am tall; I can use the long levers. If my trigger is good, my balance is good, then bat swing and all sorts itself out. So I just focus on those two.”
He might be right too. Remember Lloyd Pope and the under-19 World Cup quarter-finals between England and Australia in 2018? Even as England folded for 96, Banton made a lion’s share of the score – 58 off 53 balls – unperturbed by the harakiri at the other end.
It was mostly the case in the T20 Blast too when despite him and Azam topping the run-charts, Somerset finished sixth. Perhaps what Banton needs is a winning team. That this England limited-overs team is, and the time post winning a World Cup could just be pinch perfect to install someone like Banton at the top.
What separates Banton from the “just-talent” bracket is the fact that he is worried more about his technique than most. He talks about his stance, balance, trigger and straight bat more than he mentions his reverse hits. He is gushing as he talks about partnering with Pakistan openers Azhar Ali and Babar Azam.
“Azhar Ali has been a calming influence for me. So has Babar Azam been in the T20s. Seeing some of the best players in the world at the other end has also helped. Obviously, with Babar, we shared quite a few good partnerships in the Blast and it has been wonderful watching such batsmen from close quarters.”
As you talk to him, there is this recurring feeling that if he does go on to have a big International career, it wouldn’t be his pyrotechnics that will be hogging headlines. That in itself shows the kind of player Banton wants to portray himself as. With his attention to detail, it isn’t beyond him to rise above the 360 degree tag that comes attached with every player capable of switching his stance and grip. Over to New Zealand and Banton as we all keenly await.